A Peek Into the Heart of God

Today I had an experience in Harlem that I never thought I’d have. Never in my sheltered, privileged life could I have imagined the experience I had today. Today God gave me the chance to love on a serial killer.

“Junior” came to the bus like many others just looking for interaction and food. Upon seeing that we advertise helping people get shelter and housing he asked to speak to one of us. By God’s grace I was free and sat down with him in the front of our retro-fitted mobile-soup-kitchen of a bus. He explained to me that he had recently had an operation where they cut off his toe due to a series of unfortunate events. To spare a long story becoming longer, I’ll nix the details. We ended up talking about his health issues for just a couple minutes and then the real conversation started.

He mentioned that he had gotten out of prison last year and due to this series of events had been hospitalized from November of last year until this past March. I asked the routine question with care;

“Do you mind if I ask what you were imprisoned for?”

He leaned in a little bit and replied softly (others were in earshot);

“for murder. several murders.”

When asking our guests that question I have heard many things but I hadn’t yet heard that. I listened quietly as he told me that he had killed 11 people and spent the past 37 years in prison. They wanted to initially give him the electric chair but he had people in his corner pleading for his case. Upon hearing a small part of the beginning of his story I was given just a tiny piece of understanding as to why he had decided to do what he did. “Junior” had been abused by his older brothers as a young child and then given drugs to cope with the hurt. I didn’t ask details and just let him tell what he wanted to. He had been imprisoned from the tender age of 14 and classified as a serial killer.

“I have to learn everything again.” He said, “Everything is new to me.”

My heart broke. I held back tears. Before me sat a 50 yr old man who had spent only 15 yrs outside of prison. The pain and torment he had endured and used to fuel his past decisions was tangible.

I gently poked at his heart.

“How have you been dealing with your pain since you got out? How is your heart?”

He said he had two people he relies on when things get tough on him mentally: his nephew and his son. He contacts them regularly and also has been taking medications for his mental health diagnoses. Along with a list of mental struggles he also has been burdened with a recent diagnosis of osteomyelitis which is, in short, why his toe got amputated. He also has cancer and a seizure disorder which was evident as soon as I sat down with him. His hands and face constantly twitched and often delayed a word or two from coming out of his mouth.

I felt God’s pain for the experiences this man had gone through. I felt his love and acceptance of him even though he had done many terrible things. I wanted to stay in that life care visit for much longer, I wanted to become his friend. God drove my heart towards him. God did, not me. That level of brokenness in a single human being I had never experienced first hand before, but God does every second of every day. I was given the tiniest taste of how God’s heart is broken for the broken.

After giving “Junior” some information about where he could go and who he could speak to about the needs he had, I asked about his faith. His answer gave me hope,

“I accepted Jesus last year” he said.

“How has that helped you since? Are you doing ok dealing with your struggles?”

“It’s been tough,” he said, “but it has helped me.”

He accepted prayer and I felt the Spirit stirring in me as God talked directly to him. The love of God is an overwhelming thing. It isn’t picky. It doesn’t hold back. IT RUNS towards the brokenness in all of us.

“Junior” is still struggling with mental and physical health problems, but he is struggling with the mightiest power under, behind, and above him. When he was with me he wasn’t depressed or sad or angry at his situation, he is just battling each day as it comes. Please join me in praying for continued healing and strengthened faith in God in the coming months and years as he looks to an unknown future. I believe his violent tendencies have been released by the overwhelming God.

It was only about 30 minutes of my day but when it was done I was wrecked. Sometimes being given a peek into the heart of God can do that to you. God hurts for the hurting. He weeps over trauma, no matter how massive or minute. He is a God that walks alongside those who have done wicked things (me and you) and waits for us to come running to him with his arms flung wide.

There is no darkness that the love of Christ can’t blind.

 

I’m just a broken man who’s been loved on so that I can continue loving on other broken people.

Blessings,

Ben

 

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Learning to Love Better

It’s been a long week.

The crazy thing is, I only worked three days this week. We had our weekly office day on Tuesday and then I had off Wednesday and Thursday. I only did two street outreaches this week but the past two days felt like they made up for the two days of absence previously. Experiences from both yesterday and today taught me things I didn’t know about how to better love people.

God has been using this job to consistently teach me how to be a better follower of Him and how to be less selfish in the ways that I perceive what Love is. I’ll use several examples from the past 48 hours to help you understand.

Love looks like grace given when an angry passerby comes up to you and tells you that the food you serve to the people is “garbage.”

This lady came up to me and was complaining that we have been serving garbage to people for 30 years now and it needs to stop, it needs to change. Most of you don’t know what we serve so let me give you a little taste; we serve vegan soup that consists of water, our own blend of spices, kidney beans, canned diced vegetables, and parboiled rice (so it cooks while we are on the way to the outreach). We also serve bread that has been baked fresh early that morning from a Portuguese bakery in Newark who provides bread to some of the biggest companies in NJ (among them, Shoprite). We also serve fresh made fruit punch and lemonade as well as cold water for those who are diabetic. When told that our soup was vegan and what it consisted of, this lady turned on the drinks and scolded me for serving sugar to sick people. Did she have a point? Yes. Was it good? No. People like the options of water and a sugared drink. Many times they don’t get choices as homeless people because they are just given whatever whoever is serving them sees fit or has the money for. Choices are a small part of restoring the dignity of our friends on the street.

Love looks like grace given when another angry passerby takes pictures of your outreach and complains that we are illegally parked (technically true) as well as blocking pedestrian traffic with “lowlifes” (not true at all). We have been at this specific location for years and NYC police know that the work New York City Relief is doing is for the good of the city and is indeed helping people out of desperate situations into a better, fuller life. In short, it doesn’t matter that we were illegally parked. As to the other things this man had to say about our outreach, they were straight from the Enemy himself. God kept my cool as I listened to an angry, certainly sad and hurt, man spew utter darkness and lies about the people we help in Harlem. I was told that what we are doing in fact does Harlem harm because we are extending the lives of people who should be dying and thus leaving a better Harlem in their wake. I was told that we at NYCR are going against natural selection and not letting it weed out worthless people…

On a cheerier note, love looks like being able to be a part of shoing (verb) a homeless man who walked into our outreach without anything on his feet. They were badly blistered and looked painful but I’m not entirely sure this man was fully aware of his situation. Upon trying to talk to Greg he would listen and answer a question or two but then snap out of reality and start to laugh to himself and go back to eating and it would be hard to get his attention again. Once attention was once again procured, the same cycle would repeat. From what he told me he just wanders, uses the train, and that’s his life. He couldn’t tell me any specific area of the city he was familiar with and just answered with “I’m on the train and then I walk around.” It’s a miracle he came upon our outreach. A volunteer family that had introduced us was concerned for his feet and so I said I was going to walk down the block to a Payless to try and find him a pair of shoes. The husband wanted to come with me and buy the shoes if we found them. As we walked into the store we saw that they were closing and everything was 60-90% off! God is good! We got him a pair of foam-soled comfy Champions for the low price of just $12!!! As we were checking out, the volunteer who had accompanied me’s wife called him to say that Greg was wandering off. After asking them to try and keep him because we were checking out, I checked with the volunteer and returned back to the outreach quickly as he was continuing to check out, to try and catch Greg before he left. When I got back, the volunteer’s wife told me he had already walked off in a direction and I set out in pursuit with the new shoes. By God’s grace Greg hadn’t walked too far yet and I found him shortly after. I tried to explain that he had left too early and we had a pair of shoes for him but he didn’t seem to understand much of what I was conveying. We sat down in a bus stop and I encouraged him to try the shoes on even though they were a size too small than what he had said his size was (the store had been all but stripped clean because of the sales). He assured me with the first sane sentence that had come out of his mouth since meeting him that “they will do fit, they will do.” As he put the new shoes on a single tear made its way down the side of his nose and tumbled to the ground. This was the sign from God to me that he knew exactly what was happening in that moment and of the realization of the love that he had been showed. To be honest I’m not too sure if he understood much of what was happening around him but I am grateful that he understood exactly what was going on in that moment. As I returned to outreach to leave back to base, I told the generous volunteers who had bought the shoes exactly what had happened so they could rejoice with me.

That was a blessed ending to a (2-day) long week of outreach for me. Those kinds of moments are found nowhere else but in the loving work of Jesus Christ to a broken world. I encourage you to think about your own life and what loving people means to you and how you need to maybe expand that image a little bit or change some things. If you don’t know how to do that, I encourage you to come and volunteer with us at NYCR. It’s not glorious and certainly not prestigious but I can tell you that it will be one of the most transforming and challenging experiences of your life.

Just another long short week in the books. Man God is so good for letting me do this kind of work. I am still amazed and humbled that he chose me for this!!

As always, I am in need of your prayers. This work is exhausting on every level and it’s only by grace and favor that I push on.

Blessings family,

Ben

Mortification

noun

“the action of subduing one’s bodily desires”

 

I just started The Mortification of Sin by John Owens. In the introduction, J. I. Packer mentions the “need for self-scrutiny” in the area of mortification in one’s personal life. He says, “In Scripture, as in Owen, much stress is laid on the deceitfulness of the fallen human heart, and the danger of self-ignorance, with the result that one thinks well of one’s heart and life when God, the searcher of hearts, is displeased with both.”

I have been guilty of this self-righteousness on many occasions and I have paid dearly for it. The continued stronghold of habitual sin in my life is evidence of it. There is no point in denying it so I felt the need to come clean with that first and foremost, or else the rest of these thoughts won’t be filtered through the correct lens.

Many of you have read my thoughts on myself and my struggles before, and with risk of boring or beating a dead horse, so to speak, I am prompted to discuss them with myself once more through writing.

I’m no stranger to failure, especially when it comes to overcoming the sin in my life. Some I have let entrench themselves so much that I’ve had a hard time removing them and have been working on renovations for years. The reason for this 30 day social media fast is just that, but even during this fast I have taken L’s. This is because I haven’t been committing myself to spiritual disciplines while I omit some of the most triggering parts of my life. As I mentioned a couple days ago, it’s not just a problem of omission, but a joint problem of lack of commission as well. Hence, my purchase reading of John Owen, who has been pronounced as a Puritan Giant for his writings.

I have been convicted of my lackluster approach thus-far of my fight for righteousness and purity. Too long have I sat on the sidelines of the battle for my soul and let grace pick me up every time I melt and give in. Whereas I know that grace is sufficient, I am reminded of Paul’s writings in Romans 6:1-2. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

It’s hard to pick up your weary self and put on the armor of God when you have been rooting for the other side; the side of comfort in the pleasure of sin, since day one. God has not called me to be a lukewarm man dabbling in sin and running back to him for forgiveness when I’m done!

It won’t come easy, and I don’t presume to overcome instantly, although I know that is possible with God. He wants me to get in the fight with him and learn instead of letting him continue to forgive when I haven’t even been taking a stand.

I am in need of the transforming love of Christ now more than ever.

As always, I petition your prayers.

Mesi anpil,

Ben

 

The Minutiae

“God is in the details.”

This is a quote that I have said many times in my life and I truly do believe it. I have been witness to this fact; been in front row seats, so to speak, of God’s detail-oriented work in the lives of those around me as well as my own. We like to focus on the big miracles of our time and often overlook or ignore the seemingly small miracles that happen all around us every day. I am guilty of this too. I have taken things that God has done in my life and chalked them up to chance, or to my own abilities or those of my family and friends.

We need to check our spiritual eyes on the regular, if not daily, in order to calibrate ourselves with the work that God both wants to do and is currently doing in our lives. This is why daily connection with his Word is so important (again, preaching to the choir here..). I am guilty of this as well, if i’m feeling strong or “good” an any given day, my tendency is to rely on myself and thus miss what God is doing around me.

When we are weak, we can see his strength more clearly.

Some may think that they need to be “good” or “strong” in order for God to show up and do stuff in their lives and they couldn’t be more wrong. The most transformative work God does is in the lives and hearts of those who are desperately wicked and in need of saving *raises hand*. Dat me.

When we come to a place of repentance and recognition of our own sin, the clouds of pride and perfectionism give way to clearer pictures of his varied grace, mercy and undying love. In this state, it is easier to see the minutiae of God’s handiwork. It is said, “Good things come in small packages.” and I’ll take that one step further into the subject of God’s work. “God’s good things often come in the smallest of details.”

I’ll give you an example:

Last week I met with a middle-aged gentleman named Sean at the New York City Rescue Mission. He had come to our co-op for clothes but wanted to talk to someone about transitional housing as well as employment opportunities. I’m glad that I could be the one to meet with him and help. His gentleness juxtaposed his situation. He has been living in one of the most hard, violent, prison-like shelters in NYC for the past 11 months. When he told me where he was staying my jaw almost dropped. I couldn’t believe that he was still there and still unharmed. I knew instantly that God’s hands of protection were on this man and I told him that. Anyway, to make a longer story less long (cus I could talk about stuff like this all day), we talked about his situation and he does have a caseworker through the shelter so I wrote him a referral from NYCR to his caseworker for help with a 2010e application as well as housing. I then directed him to several employment agencies where he could send his resume (thankful that he had one!) and hopefully get the ball rolling on work. He let me pray favor over him even though he didn’t pronounce Christianity and he left with tears welling in his eyes. I prayed for him throughout the week as he had stuck out to me that day and wouldn’t leave my mind. One of our follow up care team messaged our team on Wednesday saying that he had touched base with Sean and had been informed that Sean accepted a job with the Department of Education!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He just needs to wait for the background check to go through and then he will start!

My heart is so overjoyed at this small step forward! This is not a “golden ticket” for Sean, this is not the end of his hardship. He is still living in arguably one of the darkest places in NYC. What little time I spent at that shelter during my resource visit a couple weeks into working was the darkest moment I’ve been through emotionally and spiritually in a while. Much work still needs to be done in Sean’s life in order to get him back where he should be. But that DOESN’T nullify or minimize God’s amazing work in his life! A victory is a victory, no matter how small! I’m blessed to be able to say I was in the front row seat for that one. Looking in on the situation from the outside, one may think who is separated from the situation that it’s JUST a small step and his life is still messed up and there’s sooo much that has to be done. They wouldn’t be wrong, but because I was open to the work that God had for me that day, I am able to bless his Name for the small ways he works.

Stories like this are far less common than they should be in the work that we do. Focusing on how God moves in small ways keeps us encouraged and striving forward in the work that he has given us. If we are only encouraged by the seemingly big miracles then our hope will often dry up and we will become discouraged.

Take time to look for “the small, precise, or trivial details” of God’s amazing work. You’ll likely be blown away by all that is going on around you when you finally can see it.

I hope this story encouraged you! It sure did me. Keep your spiritual eyes open and focused!

Ben

Provoked to Love

I’ve just started reading Provoked by NYCR’s President and CEO Juan Galloway and the first chapter talks about how he has been provoked by God to love more fully and sacrificially. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how I connect with parts of his story. I am a selfish person and one who does not love others out of my own self. God has had to do a bunch of work in my heart in order even get me this far; and I have so far to go. If I look back over my spiritual life, I can see points and seasons where I was being gently drawn towards love through the situations and people that had been put in my path and story.

Haiti was definitely a crucible moment for me: physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was surrounded by people who needed love more than many of whom I had met in life before. I had the chance to grow closer to love every day. Many days I didn’t accept that call and just kept to myself, but the days where I chose to love sacrificially were the days that I had more peace than anything. I was living in the will of God for my life more fully on those days. Looking back on that time, I know that God had called me to Haiti in order to work on my heart. While I was indeed helping people who really needed it and building up my brothers and sisters in Christ, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed to be there in order to have my heart molded.

I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to spiritual disciplines and practices. I don’t take the hints easily and God rarely ever gets my “yes” when asking the first time. I am ashamed to admit this but it’s true. I can’t understand the patience of God when it comes to people like myself. Yet he still chooses to offer me great opportunities to serve him and expand his Kingdom? Like whaaat…

Well this new opportunity in NYC is no exception to his continual call to grow in love. My love has been challenged over and over while serving the people of NYC and I am grateful to say that I believe it’s been growing. God knew that I didn’t care for homeless people or people of NYC for that matter, yet this is where he chose to send me. The stretching is real folks! 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (NASB) This is the true challenge: that we, that I not only give people stuff, but that love is given. Love is a spiritual muscle and it needs to be trained in order to grow stronger and expand. This is why God puts us in challenging situations and gives us the grace to not only get through them, but to grow in the process.

My love hasn’t always been this warm. It used to be cold. It definitely isn’t as hot as myself or God want it to be. There’s much learning and growing to do in the love department for me but I know that I am in the right place for it to happen. I just have to let go of my selfishness and open my heart to those who need to be loved.

A quote in the first chapter of Provoked caught my eye, it is actually a passage from another book called The Three Battlegrounds by Francis Frangipane. It reads as follows:

“Is your love growing softer, brighter and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love…”

This text is provoking.. provoking of thought and inward assessment of one’s own love. Let it provoke you like it is provoking me to love others more fully, more readily, more sacrificially.

Blessings,

Ben

Un-compromising Myself

I have been compromising myself recently. I have slipped into apathy when dealing with habitual sins and as a result, I have been feeling sluggish and off over the past week or so. It’s time for a change.

I need to press that reset button and in doing so I am taking a 30 day social media (IG, FB) as well as cutting out white flour and sugar from my diet. The cutting out of food came from an increased feeling of apathy towards health and I’ve been convicted that I need to not only focus on building myself up spiritually but physically as well.

Today was the first day of no social media and so far it’s been alright. I have been largely distracted by work but there were several times during it that I found myself picking up my phone and looking at it for no reason.. because I no longer have social media! For those of you who know my personal struggles then you can imagine that social media exacerbates them. It has been a tripping point for me more than usual lately and that’s what has spurred this fast.

At first I told myself and my mens group that I would be committing to no social media after 10PM but one of my brothers pointed out that a cut off time won’t be enough, that it would have to be a total cut off of social media for a time to be able to reset. At first I didn’t want to believe him and started making up excuses and building myself and my own self-control up and telling myself I could do it with just this small correction.. welp.. that didn’t go too well either so here I am! I am man enough to realize when I am wrong and in need of help and so this will be my petition to you all to lift me up in prayer during these next 30 days! I covet them. I have failed over and over on my own and I need to hold fast to my Anchor but that won’t come easy. My tendencies, especially in the areas of my own sin, are to try and fight it by myself and mess it up again and again. I plan on doing more spiritual reading during this time as well as getting back into the habit of praying.

In all these things I need help. I don’t want to read more! I don’t want to pray more! I want to go on sinning in comfort! My pursuit for righteousness has been less than amicable and I wish to change that. I need to learn to run from my sin and to Him who has given and continues to give victory over it.

Aside from eating better, I also plan to go to the gym more often because I don’t take care of this body I’ve been blessed with enough.

This will be a time of sharpening,

of dying to self,

of pulling.

By His grace alone,

Ben

Spiritual Kintsugi

Kintsugi (golden joinery) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

God loves to take broken things and restore them. He loves to take people who are wrecked and make them whole. He is in the business of repairing so well that the final product is simultaneously still scarred yet still more beautiful than the original.

My understanding of this Japanese art form first came from research with Jericho Cruzado when we were expanding our ideas for more Herald Threads clothing. We loved the idea of how this art form is exactly how God works with his children. That idea never left me and I have carried it through much brokenness and taken much encouragement from it because I know it to be true; this is exactly how God works.

I am so broken, so needy. Many of you know this from past blog posts or just from knowing me. Even with my short time at New York City Relief, I have felt this reality. The work that I have been chosen to do in NYC is incredibly big, bigger than I am qualified to tackle. The under-qualification of Ben is vast! BUT I know that God is using me in my brokenness and transforming me into something far superior, far more beautiful than I ever could have been without Him and without this. As I continue to struggle with my own sin, I am daily reminded that even if in a worldly sense I am under-qualified, God has qualified me and is qualifying me to do this. I am so humbled to be counted worthy and trusted with this work. He will not let my shortcomings get in the way of the work that He is doing in the lives of so many.

Again and again I am amazed at where God has called me. In one sense, what I do is very tangible and felt in the physical world: connecting the needy to resources. In another sense it is intangible to the physical realm and strongly felt in the spiritual. The waters are deep, the waves are high, but He will keep me afloat! My hope and strength are in Him!

There is still so much to learn, but I’ve got the best Teacher.

Take courage in this: if God is calling you to something, He will qualify you. It doesn’t matter what other people may speak into your life, or what you even think of yourself. He sees greatness in you and wants to use you for His kingdom. So don’t be like me and resist until he decides to lovingly toss you into chaos. Say “yes” to the thing that you know He has been gently pulling you towards. I know it will be scary, I know that you will feel under-qualified and I’m not discounting that those may be true, but God is someone who will be there empowering you to do everything He has spoken over you.

From one broken person to another; your brokenness doesn’t disqualify you. You are being lovingly repaired to become stronger, more beautiful, more alive than you ever have been before.

Don’t trust “the process,” trust His process.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The greatest upsets in todays world are the people who are seen as nothing but let God use them for everything.

Be one of those people.

Blessings,

Ben